The words above are words no one wants to hear at the dentist's office. Take good care of your teeth or your smile won't be as bright and beautiful as you'd like it to be. When you slack on brushing and flossing, oral care problems will result, which could lead to cavities and gum problems.
Cavities are what you get from tooth decay, which causes damage to the tooth. Tooth decay can affect both the outer coating of a tooth, called enamel and the inner layer, called dentin(see below the full diagram of a tooth).
A cavity is a hole that can grow bigger and deeper over time. Cavities are also called dental caries and if you have a cavity, it's important to get it repaired.
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Blame plaque. A sticky, slimy substance made up mostly of the germs that cause tooth decay.
When foods with carbohydrates like bread, cereal, milk, soda, fruit, cake or candy stay on your teeth, the bacteria in your mouth turn them into acids. The bacteria, acid, food debris and your saliva combine to form plaque, which clings to the teeth. The acids in plaque dissolve the enamel, creating holes called cavities.
If you don't go to the dentist, the acids can continue to make their way through the enamel, and the inside parts of your tooth can begin to decay.
If you've ever had a toothache or heard an adult complain about one, it may have been because there was a cavity that reached all the way inside a tooth, where the nerve endings are.
Cavities are more common among children, but changes that occur with aging make cavities an adult problem, too. As you get older, your gums pull away from your teeth. They can also pull away because of gum disease. This exposes the roots of your teeth to plaque.
Older adults often have a lot of dental work because they didn't get fluoride or good oral care when they were kids.
Can Tooth Decay Be Reversed?
Caries caught in the very early stages can be reversed. White spots may indicate early caries that has not yet eroded through the enamel. Early caries may be reversed if acid damage is stopped and the tooth is given a chance to repair itself naturally.
Caries that has destroyed enamel cannot be reversed. Most caries will continue to get worse and go deeper. With time, the tooth may decay down to the root. How long this takes will vary from person to person. Caries can erode to a painful level within months or years.
How Do I Know If I Have One?
Your dentist finds cavities during a regular dental check-up. He’ll probe your teeth, looking for soft spots, or use X-rays to check between your teeth.
If you’ve had a cavity for a while, you might get a toothache, especially after you eat or drink something sweet, hot, or cold. Sometimes you can see pits or holes in your teeth.
How Are Cavities Treated?
Treatment depends on how bad the cavity is. Most often, the dentist removes the decayed portion of your tooth with a drill. He fills in the hole with a filling made of either silver alloy, gold, porcelain, or a composite resin. These materials are safe.
Some people have raised concerns about mercury-based fillings called amalgams, but the American Dental Association, the FDA, and other public health agencies say they are safe. Allergies to fillings are rare.
Crowns are used when a tooth is so badly decayed that not much of it remains. Your dentist removes and repairs the damaged part. He fits a crown made from gold, porcelain, or porcelain fused to metal over the rest of the tooth.
You might need a root canal if the root or pulp of your tooth is dead or injured in a way that can't be repaired. The dentist removes the nerve, blood vessels and tissue along with the decayed portions of the tooth. He fills in the roots with a sealing material. You may need a crown over the filled tooth.
Does it hurt?
Sometimes it does, but your dentist can give you an anesthetic. That's a kind of medicine that will numb the area around the problem tooth while you're getting your new filling.
If left untreated, a cavity will cause the tooth to decay significantly. Eventually, uncontrolled decay may destroy the tooth completely. There is also the risk of developing an infection related to an abscess when the infection spreads to the root of the tooth.
Preventing Tooth Decay/Cavities
Though cavities can be repaired, try to avoid them by taking care of your teeth. Here's how you can help prevent tooth decay:
Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after every meal or at least twice a day. Bedtime is an important time to brush.
Brush up and down in a circular motion.
Gently brush your gums as well to keep them healthy.
Remember to change your toothbrush when it looks worn, or every three months, because the newer the bristles, the more plaque the brush is able to remove.
Clean between your teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaner to remove plaque and food that's stuck between your teeth.
Limit sweets and sugary drinks, like soda or juice.
Eat nutritious and balanced meals and limit snacking.
Reduce the number of times each day that you consume fermentable carbohydrates.
See your dentist twice a year for regular checkups.
Some mouthwashes reduce bacteria in your mouth. This can help prevent decay. Chewing sugarless gums, especially those with xylitol, can help reduce the number of bacteria that cause cavities and increase the flow of saliva.
Most importantly, visit your dentist regularly. Then the dentist can find any decay early, when it can be treated and reversed.
Helping out your child to prevent cavities
Have your child brush two times per day
Supervise young children when they brush – For children aged 2 to 6, you put the toothpaste on the brush. Use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallow it. Children under 6 years of age tend to swallow much of the toothpaste on their brush. If children regularly consume higher than recommended amounts of fluoride during the teeth-forming years (age 8 and younger), their permanent teeth may develop white lines or flecks called dental fluorosis. Fluorosis is usually mild; in many cases, only a dental professional would notice it. (In children under age 2, dental experts recommend that you do not use fluoride toothpaste unless directed by a doctor or dentist)
Until they are 7 or 8 years old, you will need to help your child brush. Young children cannot get their teeth clean by themselves. Try brushing your child's teeth first, then let him/her finish.